Bedouins Breaking Bread

Jun 01, 2002

RAY: This was sent into me by Richard Neilson. Two Bedouins were traveling across the desert to a distant village. In the middle of the day, they sat down to eat the loaves of bread that they had brought with them for lunch. One of them had five loaves and the other had three.

Just as they were ready to eat, a stranger comes along and asks if he might share their meal.

He said he had plenty of money but no food. The two agreed to divide their loaves equally among the three of them.

After the meal was finished, the stranger laid down eight coins of equal value for what he had eaten and he went away. The traveler who had five loaves took up five coins and left three for the other guy. But the other guy disputed it, saying, "We shared the bread, we should each get four coins." Since they could not agree, they called in a magistrate.

TOM: Let me get this straight. They're out in the middle of the desert and there happens to be a wandering magistrate?

RAY: It happens. The magistrate listened to the story and then figured out who should get what.

The question is, who's right? Or, is neither of them right?

RAY: So the question was, was the first guy right, was the second guy right, or were they both wrong? And what's the fair way to divide up the money? Well, it turns out they're both wrong. And the magistrate figures out how they should divide up the money, and here's how he figured it out.

TOM: Go ahead.

RAY: They had five loaves and three loaves. OK? That's eight loaves. Let's say the guy with the five loaves took and cut his five loaves, each of his five loaves up into three pieces. So, he'd have 15 pieces. The guy with the three loaves does the same. He cuts each of his three loaves into nine pieces.

TOM: Ooh, I like it.

RAY: Now interestingly, they have together 24 little pieces of bread. Conveniently, there are three of them. So, each person, each of the three is going to eat eight little pieces of bread. Now, the guy with the 15 loaves eats eight of them himself. That means he has given seven of them to the stranger. The guy with the nine pieces, the guy with the three loaves has cut his up into nine pieces, but he's going to eat eight of them and give one away. So, the magistrate says the guy with the five loaves gets seven coins, and the other guy gets one. So, who's our winner, man?

TOM: The winner is John Boyer from Manhattan, Kansas.

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